Iranians Encounter New Wave of Discrimination Due to 9/11 Crackdown

NCM, NCM Report, By Donal Brown Posted: Aug 19, 2004

WASHINGTON.D.C.-- Iranians in the United States are experiencing a surge in firings, deportations, FBI interrogations and security clearance denials and revocations related to the ongoing U.S. terrorist sweep.

Executive Director Dokhi Fassihian of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) said she is getting reports of five cases a day in her offices in Washington, D.C.

Fassihian says Iranians have been singled out since 9/11 but that the current intensity of the attacks on Iranians derives from the momentum mounting since 9/11 as government agencies send out directives and begin implementing policies. In general, she says, the attacks reflect unfounded fears of Middle Easterners as agents of terrorism.

An immigration lawyer from San Diego, Ali Golchin, see a connection between the current dicrimination and the intent of the U.S. to invade Iran next.

Regarding the clamp-down on immigrants, Amrit Singh, a lawyer from the Immigrant Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City, says that the government is certainly tightening its borders and curtailing the right of immigrants from all over the world. But certainly there has been an additional discrimination against Middle Eastern and Muslim peoples in particular, or on those who appear to be Middle Eastern or Muslim as in peoples from Southeast Asia.

Fassihian says the government and private employers are not applying rules fairly but discriminating and profiling by race. Iranians report that there is no intelligence findings that they are security threats, simply that they are Iranian and therefore subject to harsh treatment.

Neil Gordon, a director with the AIDS Research Alliance in Los Angeles, recently lost the services of a key researcher, an Iranian citizen with an H1 visa who returned this year to Iran for her father's funeral.

The U.S. State Department required her to get her visa stamped as a condition for returning. When she tried to obtain clearance in the U.S. consulate in Switzerland, she was denied entry pending a review of her application that could take six months or more while the FBI does a background check. After four and a half months, she did get the clearance this week.

Gordon was upset that a person doing such valuable work and who had been working in the United States for seven years would be subject to these procedures.

"The frustration is that it is not that she is researching anthrax or in nuclear research, it's that she is Iranian and has a biochemistry Ph.D," he said.

Workers at the alliance are in contact with her by telephone and fax but without her in the lab, it is difficult to sustain her research.

An Iranian couple in West Virginia were recently fired from their jobs with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They received no explanation for their firings and were told there was no appeal.

Aliakbar Afshari and Shahla Azadi had been in the United States for 17 years and worked for NIOSH in Morgantown for seven years with green cards as permanent residents. In May they were told they had failed a background check and escorted off the premises. They were not aware there was even a background check under way, and each had passed a previous check.

When they asked for documentation of the background check, they were told it was classified. Their attorney Allan Karlin used the Freedom of Information Act in an effort to obtain the documents. The FBI said they had none in Washington but are still looking in other areas.

No one with NIOSH in the Morgantown office knew anything about the firings before the order came down. Karlin did find out that the background check was ordered by the Department of Homeland Security on individuals from “threat countries to the United States.” Iran is one of those countries.

Karlin was perturbed that the government had made no attempt to find out anything about the couple from fellow employees and superiors. He said he obtained 20 letters from a diverse cross section of the community who testified to the couple’s upstanding character.

Karlin himself said, “These are two of the finest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing and representing.”

Fassihian, from the NIAC, reported that many Iranians have been denied security clearances for federal jobs or for contracts for federal work. This has had an adverse effect on the ability of Iranians to earn a living in a tough economic climate.

Fassihian also cited an instance of a person who has been in the United States since 1973 with a green card since 1983 who applied in 1998 for citizenship. His application has been stalled for six years with no answers for the delay.

Fassihian said there is a new round of FBI interrogations, but people are too scared to step forward to tell their stories.

After Sept. 11, the government required males, 18-65 years old, from 25 Middle East countries to report to INS offices throughout the United States the process was called the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS).

In Southern California the system was marked by illegal treatment and detention. After approximately 1,000 Iranians voluntarily registered, the INS took them into custody, hand-cuffing them and detaining them for days without access to attorneys, families or doctors.

Fassihian and Morad Ghorban, political director for the Iranian American Political Action Committee, think that the current round of interrogations stems from NSEERS during which the government gathered information and made lists of Iranian nationals.

Fassihian says that tough enforcement of immigration laws does not take into consideration that the Iranians under deportation have not committed any major crimes, only minor infractions, if any. Many were applying for permanent residence but, were detained before their case could be adjudicated. They responded to NSEERS by registering and now are subject to deportation procedures.

Golchin says that in dealing with Iranians in the U.S., American should consider that Iranians are a diverse lot and should not be stereotyped.
"...Iranians," he says, "are mostly non-Arabs, and...are Moslems, Christians, Jews, Bahaiis, and Zoroastrians."

Fassihian and Ghorban want a balanced treatment of Iranians in the United States, one that promotes homeland security while respecting the rights of those who are industrious and law-abiding. They question why Iranians are targeted while other foreign nationals with unsettled immigration status do not have to contend with the same strict enforcement. They said the treatment is out of proportion given the way Iranians have settled peacefully into life in the U.S.

Golchin says that through their success in education, science, business and professions, Iranins deserve Temporary Protected Status in the U.s. tht is accorded to national of many other nations. He feels that Iranians have been denied because they are not organized politically. That, he says, will change with the 2004 election as Iranian American vote in large number, and run for office.

Fassihianalso says that the treatment according Iranians is out of proportion given the way they have settled peacefuly into life in the U.S., "Never, never has there been an instance of terrorism by someone from the Iranian community in America."

Related Stories:

FBI Tries to Break the Ice With U.S. Muslims

Bad Monster? Iranian-Americans Demand Answers From Employment Website

Post-9/11 Deportations of Legal Immigrants Continue

Need to Renew Your Non-Immigrant Visa? U.S. Says You Need to Go Back Home First

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